Tag: rehabilitation counseling
Self-determination is a tricky process for people with disabilities because it operates on a continuum. Life is unpredictable, and for the most part–so is disability. But, with self-determination, the person with a disability can regain some level of control and dictate the choices and direction of her life. Self-determination is a concept where a person has the confidence and ability to decide and move forward with the best, next-steps in his own life. Not what you or I think is best, but what they want for their own lives. For many, especially those with disabilities, well-meaning loved ones have in a lifetime of protecting the person with a disability (PWD), have actually kind of sheltered or unintentionally taken control over the life of the PWD.
It’s difficult for loved ones, and I understand that better than most. I have been guilty of being a helicopter constantly propelling what I thought was best over the person I love with a disability. It’s incredibly challenging to shut that off because you love that person and want what is best for them. I know it may seem like I’m asking a lot for you to back down (or if you are a PWD, to take control)…but please, hear me out.
When I was a special educator, and then a rehabilitation counselor (CRC), I saw many students and young adults with disabilities that had their differences in ability. They had skills that needed more developing, skills they were not capable of displaying, and skills that made them unique assets in the best way. However, those unique-asset skills were often under-utilized because they had not practiced them independently on their own incentive or triggering. For example, they could do really well in an interview after having practiced and trained, but they were going on job interviews below their skill level because someone (though again, well-meaning) told them this job would be “so good for you!” Or, they were not going to job interviews at all because their loved ones were really (and understandably) nervous about them putting themselves out there and taking a massive step towards independence.
The biggest limitation in the life of any person is their own belief that they are limited. Yes, of course individuals (with disability or temporarily able-bodied) have to be realistic. I’m not saying someone who has never dribbled a basketball, or someone who has played in a community basketball league–has the skill to try out for the NBA. But I am asking for you to not make assumptions about their abilities or limitations, because when you assume their limitations, they see themselves as inherently limited. Really sit down with the person, and ask him what he would like to learn. Ask him what skills are important for adults to possess. Objectively think of the many skills he has already learned, and try to compare those to the skills he wants to learn.
I am not suggesting that anyone just shut down and remove themselves out of the PWD’s life in one clean break, no longer helping the PWD with anything. It is a process, and of course you will never just be out of their lives–you love them! Nonetheless, self-determination is learned and blossoms in an environment that encourages growth, independence, and inclusion. This is one of the reasons why so many adults with disabilities phase out of the public education system, and wind up under-employed or unemployed. Further, when students learn skills at school relating to independence, they lose those skills if they are not generalized and practiced in the home-environment. And trust me, I completely understand that as a loved one of a PWD you are busy and have many, many responsibilities for yourself and your family. That’s why I want to give you some tools and strategies for encouraging the independence of the PWD so that maybe it can at the same time lessen your work load and empower your loved one.
It is difficult for many people without disabilities to break down the appropriate steps in fostering and empowering independence in a PWD. Every person is different, but here is an example of how one could foster the self-determination process in an adult with a disability (Also: You can reach out to someone who works in this field–like me!–if you want guidance on appropriate steps for a specific person…again, progress is a continuum with steps forward and steps back, and that is okay. This does not have to happen overnight!).
Self-determination skills: Determining food choices
- Watch a cooking show on tv that discusses nutrition and healthy eating
- Practice cooking simple meals in the kitchen with the PWD, emphasizing safety and nutrition (boiling water for pasta, making pasta, cleaning up after making pasta, with canned sauce)
- The PWD cooks on his own while the loved one is not overseeing, but is in the general area in case the PWD has a question
- Show the PWD where to find coupons, and discuss how much food really costs
- Watch tv shows about the health effects of not eating nutritious (but don’t be too scary about it, especially if the PWD is someone who can get easily overwhelmed or experiences severe anxiety–in this case you can discuss food choices in terms that are not so daunting with regards to the health consequences)
- Have the PWD go to the grocery store with you and have him hold the list (if possible, have him read and check off the list as you go–if he is not able to read, that’s okay too! You can sit with him and go through grocery store inserts, pamphlets, magazines, coupon clippings, etc. Just cut those pictures out and make the list out of pictures. You can even draw the pictures!)
- After practicing #6 a few times, and if he is safely independent in public (as in, won’t go with strangers, won’t give his money to strangers, isn’t a harm to himself or others), bring him to the grocery store and have him gather the food on the list while you wait at the front of the store with a book/magazine
- After practicing #7 a few times, practice money skills. Discuss pricing of food and different ways you can make payment. Go through #7 and at the end of each time you shop, have the PWD give the money for payment to the cashier. If the PWD gets nervous, that’s normal. You can go at times when the grocery store is less busy, or teach him how to use the self-checkout line, but ultimately practice will help him feel more comfortable.
- After practicing #8, and if he is safely independent in public, bring the PWD to the grocery store and wait in the car as he shops for the food on the list, and pays on his own.
- Have the PWD make the grocery list on his own, check it over to make sure it covers essential items that are financially-responsible choices.
- If not yet learned, teach the PWD transportation options like the bus. Public transportation systems have disability-accessible bussing but the more inclusive the better (again, depending on the actual, realistic abilities of the PWD). A PWD should live and operate in the least restrictive environment as appropriate. It may take time, and it will be a little daunting for both you and the PWD, but that is a normal part of growing up and in time and with practice, he could gain much independence and allow more free time and balancing of responsibilities for you and your household.
- Have the PWD look up transportation options on his own, and then schedule it on his own, go food shopping, pay, and return home on his own.
- Combine steps 1-12.
Again, this is just a generic example. Some of these steps can be combined or adjusted if the PWD is more advanced, or they can be broken down even more. I’ve broken down the process of making a PB&J into nearly 60 steps before for a client with a disability. The most important thing is that we don’t just give up and do something for a person with a disability simply because it’s the easier and quicker thing to do. Sure, there may be days when you do not have time to pre-teach, teach, and re-teach. When you do have time though, the best way you can love a PWD is by loving their independent drive and spirit. After all, you cannot and will not always be around and in times of need the PWD should feel competent to do as much as he is capable.
This post does not come from a place of judgment. I’ve been there, personally and professionally. I know what it is like to see a loved one go through something difficult and have to maneuver life-changes after the fact. This is just guidance on a tricky part about loving a PWD, and as always I am here if you have any questions! Feel free to email me at email@example.com
Thank you for reading and sharing,
Ashley Jacobson, JD, MA, CRC
Disability Expert and Advocate
Happy Autism Awareness Month!
Every year around this time I get the joy of seeing many of my friends and family sharing their enthusiasm and interest in disability advocacy and it warms my heart and makes it grow at least 10 times. With that said, there are some things I want people to keep in mind when they want to share their support for those on the autism spectrum.
- Keep in mind person-first language. Someone is a boy/girl with a disability, or a boy/girl with autism, or a boy/girl who is on the autism spectrum. It is not okay to refer to someone as “autistic” unless they say it is okay to do so. The reason behind this: a person is not his label. He is a person, first.
- Be aware of the organizations you are promoting, and their main messages. There are many organizations who have done wonders in increasing awareness about autism but some of the most well-known autism organizations do not sit well with people who actually have autism. The reason behind this: there are major organizations that have an autism focus, that focus on researching to find a cure for autism. To my students, clients, friends, and family on the spectrum this comes across like an insult. One of my prior counseling clients put it best when he said, “saying I need a cure is saying there is something wrong with me. I’m not like everyone else, but just because I’m different doesn’t mean being me is wrong.”
- Showing your support on-line and through social media is awesome. Including people with autism in your day-to-day life is even better. Take steps to make your clubs, businesses, organizations, parties, and events inclusive to people with disabilities. If you need help with this, shoot me an email!
- Keep an open mind. People present any difference or disability in a unique way. For some, you might be very surprised to learn they have a disability. For others, their disability may be more apparent. It doesn’t mean they deserve more/less support or more/less understanding. Autism (like most differences and disabilities) operates on a spectrum and is unique to the individual. There is no right or wrong way to present your differences, but there are ways to help someone with a disability to acclimate to a new job, school, or social group. There are also simple ways to show patience throughout your daily life with strangers because as the old saying goes: “you never know what someone may be going through.”
- Children with disabilities grow up to become adults with disabilities. There are so many wonderful resources for people with autism and other disabilities, and I encourage you to look into great programs for adults who are on the autism spectrum. In Michigan I have worked with the BOND Program at Michigan State University, ASPPIRE, and other amazing transition and vocational programs for adults who have autism. There is such a need for more support of these programs. People with autism can be capable, hard-working individuals that light up their communities and make contributions socially and vocationally. Show your support for continued growth and opportunity by contributing to these programs!
With all that said, I am eternally grateful for the disability awareness taking place this month and as always commit to spreading awareness year round. Light it up blue!
Thanks for caring and sharing 😊
Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC
I previously posted a podcast about victims with disabilities, after having provided a training to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office on how to best approach a case involving a victim with a disability. This is part 2 of the Victims with Disabilities series of the Legally Abled Podcast, where I provide the actual statistics on victims with disabilities in the U.S. If you are a person with a disability or you know and care for a person with a disability, it is important that you know what the current state of victimization is involving people with disabilities. Once you know how prevalent this problem is, you can start to understand how important it is to arm yourself with legal and practical knowledge as to how you can best protect yourself if you are ever faced with this situation.
If you have any questions regarding people with disabilities, or are interested in having me provide a training on navigating life and the law with disabilities please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please listen, subscribe, and review this podcast on the Apple Podcast app (which is pre-downloaded on Apple phones–it’s a purple App icon labeled “Podcasts”)! For those without iPhones have a listen at the end of this post! I also am very open to answering questions on the air if you are interested in sending me questions to discuss on the podcast!
Thank you for your continued interest and feel free to pass along.
Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC